How does yoga affect the different systems in the body?
When we look at the research and breakdown how yoga can be helpful, we’re still really just barely touching the tip of the iceberg when we talk about being able to explain it.
The Nervous System
The effects of yoga on sympathetic and parasympathetic regulation and circulation are a big part of the effects of a yoga practice that we can explain right now. Our capacity to efficiently & effectively regulate stress and recalibrate the nervous system responses and increase blood flow. Interestingly enough a large number of pharmaceuticals target the nervous system to create their responses and yet we actually still know very little about the nervous system and the brain.
Then there’s the flip-side. The sympathetic also gets a bad rep. New research also shows that the power of stressing the system is really important to our health & longevity, with things like intermittent fasting and athletic training being examples. What’s important is that we can rise to the challenge and then smoothly transition back to a more parasympathetic dominant state. With such a diversity of movement and more introspective practices, yoga is an excellent way to train these shifts in the nervous system.
The mind & mental health are a huge part of the effects we see from a regular yoga practice. In fact one the things that makes researching yoga so difficult is that so often prompts positive lifestyle changes from these mental shifts. A regular yoga practice changes the lens through which we see the world by creating a more nonjudgmental appreciation for what’s within & around us. It allows us moments to sit in the middle and watch the waves of our lives around us, which is a big part of its use in stress reduction.
It’s fascinating to look at the placebo studies coming out of Harvard and how we look at placebo as a negative outcome rather than the power of the mind. The importance of our perspective, our mindset, our purpose, setting an intention with practice, all these really simple things are also a big part of what’s shaping the effects of our practice. We’re learning so much more about the brain and how powerful it is in regulating so many things, including pain and our experience in the world.
The Immune System
With all the super bugs and viruses right now, the immune and lymphatic impacts of a yoga practice are precious modalities. There are so many great ways to support the immune system with yoga. Simple stress reduction, pranayama and gentle flow for lymphatic circulation; or more specific movements to target the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes intelligently congregate around the joints and rely on changes in pressure to pump lymphatic fluid through them. Movements targeted to these areas help to pump fluids through the lymph nodes and the lymph flow through the nodes is an important part of our immune function.
I love seeing how new research supports these things and the implications of how important the flow of the lymphatic fluid is to supporting the immune system. It just comes down to digging in a little deeper to understand how it all works in order to create a purposeful practice to support lymphatics.
The Connective Tissue
Connective tissue research is teaching us a lot and much of that information can be applied to a yoga practice. I believe the next wave of sports medicine will build off of this new info.
There are so many implications to support the connective tissue in yoga. We find simple things like eccentric contractions, slow flow and held passive stretches as a great way to apply a healthy stress to the connective tissues which help hydrate the connective tissue and stimulates the cells to lay down more collagen, making the tissues stronger & more resilient.
There’s some interesting research on the impacts we can have on the connective tissue and the implications in yoga. Yin yoga has some interesting applications in particular. Imagine the connective tissue right under the skin like a sponge. If you think about pulling that sponge from both ends—and they’ve done studies on this—the fluid content of the fascia goes down right away. Then as you come out, once you’ve stayed in for two minutes or longer, the fluids come back into the connective tissue, to where they were and then keep increasing beyond that for up to three hours afterwards.
There’s a whole lot more to the connective tissue, but that gives you a quick peek into one area of research. Yoga is such a big part of this and since the connective tissue is a sensory organ and a key part of our proprioception and interoception there are many more connections to how yoga can benefit the connective tissues.
Learn more in Tiffany’s episode of The Yogapedia Podcast!